If you grew up in America, chances are you had a localized urban-legend in your neighborhood that involved some kind of boogeyman. Be it some freaky misfit that lurks around in parks and playgrounds or some never before seen killer who takes the blame for any kind of kidnapping, mishap or crime, we all had them and through oral tradition, these boogeymen carry on generation after generation. For Staten Island, NY their monster was Cropsey, a supposed escapee from a local loony bin who now lived in the woods and mutilated wayward children.
Filmmakers Barabara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman grew up on Staten Island with the Cropsey legend but in the late 1980’s, the Cropsey tall-tale came to life as several children went missing and some were later found dead. The true-life horror film then deepened when a creepy transient named Andre Rand was captured and charged with the kidnapping and murder of a mentally disabled girl whose body was discovered in a shallow grave near Rand’s camp. For all intents and purposes, Rand was Cropsey come to life. Brancaccio and Zenman were so taken by the true life horror story that they’ve made a documentary called “Cropsey” and the end result is as intriguing as it is downright eerie.
Brancaccio and Zenman do exhaustive research in the film and leave no stone unturned in their quest for the truth about Rand, Cropsey and the trail of missing kids that dates back to the 1970’s. They research a local youth mental institution from that era and show clips from a young cub reporter (who you will recognize, but it’s funny so I won’t give it away) as he gets inside the walls and shows a terrifying asylum of mistreated kids with varied mental disabilities. In a real moment of truth being stranger than fiction, the footage from the 70’s is disgusting and ghastly as nude bodies contort in stony darkness while they eat paste-like glop and defecate wherever they please. The shocking imagery gives solid back-story to the urban legends that have circulated for years around Staten Island and viewers begin to get a grasp on what has been embedded in the communities psyche.
As is mentioned repeatedly in the film, Staten Island is (or, was) a place for people to store trash and rumors abound that Mafioso types buried bodies there. The Island was long New York’s trash pile and several insane asylums opened up to house society’s castaways. Yet regular people lived their lives there amidst the garbage and, as in any community, stories of urban terror leaked into the ether. The Cropsey legend was chief among them and as Rand begins his trial, his bizarre, freakish behavior edge him squarely into the mold of the Cropsey and whether or not he’s guilty of the horrific crime for which he’s charged, the public immediately forms an opinion that he’s their monster.
“Cropsey” reminded me a bit of “Mystic River” mixed with “The Blair Witch Project.” We see Staten Island in finger-pointing disarray as children go missing and the court of public opinion crucifies a man before hearing the whole story. Brancaccio and Zenman do some great legwork though and in keeping with the “truth is stranger than fiction” motif in the film, they find all sorts of varied plotlines, each one weirder than the next. The two filmmakers also take their video cameras into the woods and troll old, dilapidated asylums and forage through the woods for evidence. This ties back into the boogeyman idea and while we kind of figure nothings going to happen to the two, our inner child is prodded to life as flashlights dance in the shadowy woods. In a world populated by eco-horror documentaries, I found it refreshing to see a classic boogeyman story told in documentary form.
“Cropsey” is available now on many areas “on-demand” cable systems including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Brighthouse and Insight Communications